Ordinarily it would not be news to report that Bill O’Reilly lied about something. But in this case he is layering lies on top of lies as he squirms to extricate himself from his lies.
On June 1, Pvt. William Long, was fatally shot at an Army recruiting office in Arkansas. This was the day after Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed at a church service. Both of these tragic events deserved attention from the press and sympathy from the public. And that is just what they got.
Never the less, O’Reilly sought to politicize the matter by falsely claiming that there was a deliberate distortion in the news coverage in favor of Dr. Tiller. He delivered an outraged rant in which he asserted that Tiller’s murder was over-emphasized in the media, while Long’s shooting was virtually ignored – except, of course, by himself and Fox News. The problem with O’Reilly’s tantrum is that he was completely wrong on the facts. Rick Sanchez of CNN took the time to set O’Reilly straight:
The next day, O’Reilly recognized that he could not ignore the blatant factual errors in his screed. So he issued an apology of sorts. But his apology just revealed more of his arrogance and dishonesty. He starts off with a condescending declaration that this is a “rare” correction he is being forced to make. What he doesn’t say is that it is only rare because of his reluctance to admit his frequent errors, not because he doesn’t make any. He goes on to describe the person to whom he is supposedly apologizing as a “snide and surly guy.” This is the sort of graciousness O’Reilly offers when he is apologetic:
In addition to the crude and self-serving remarks noted above, O’Reilly based his entire apology on another fundamental lie. He sought to excuse himself for his mistake by saying that he was only “talking about primetime” but neglected to say that. But in his original remarks he specifically said:
“Only Anderson Cooper at 10 o’clock covered this. Nobody else. So all day long it wasn’t news to cover an Army recruiter gunned down in Arkansas.”
O’Reilly did not forget to mention that he was only talking about primetime. He explicitly stated that CNN’s failure to cover the Long shooting occurred “all day long.” So his so-called apology was just another obfuscation of the truth.
The whole premise of this segment was based on a trumped up controversy from the start. O’Reilly, and much of the right-wing media, were up in arms about what they perceived as a disparity in coverage between the Tiller and Long shootings. But they fail to grasp some basic realities of news coverage. While these were both tragic events, they were also different events.
Tiller was a well known public figure whose position as a lightening rod for controversy guaranteed scrutiny from the press. Long was unknown and, without further investigation, there was no cause to suspect that his murder was anything other than a personal dispute that got out of hand. So the immediate reaction from the media was understandably different. For better or worse, the death of an Anna Nicole Smith will always generate more buzz than the death of a Jane Doe.
Even after it was discovered that Long’s killer was a convert to Islam, and the shooting might have a political component, it was still not controversial in that all Americans would abhor such an act. In Tiller’s case, the overriding debate about abortion stirred conflicting reactions. And if there is anything that the media loves, it’s conflict. That’s the explanation for any disparity in reporting, not some imagined preference for Dr. Tiller’s life over Pvt. Long’s.
There are two things that we can learn from the aftermath of these events. First, that the press will always fan the flames of controversy. And second, that O’Reilly can always be counted on to be a lying jerk.
Update 6/9/09: After making such a big fuss about CNN not giving enough coverage to the army recruiter shooting, Fox News failed to cover today’s press conference given by the survivor of the attack. Both CNN and MSNBC covered it live. Fox chose, instead, to broadcast remarks by Newt Gingrich from the night before.